Keeping Kashmir secret

March 5, 2010

srinagar cricketAccording to Richard Holbrooke, there is a place in the world so secret, so taboo, that even the special envoy of the most powerful country in the world dare not speak its name.

Here is what he said at a briefing earlier this week,  according to the State Department transcript:

“Now, on the larger issue, let me just make a general comment about this. This is my own personal feeling about these three countries -– Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The three countries are vastly different in culture, socioeconomic standing, political development, and – but they share a common strategic space. And in order to understand America’s policy and America’s policy dilemma, one has to understand that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in the region.

“And I’m not talking about that certain area between them which I’m not going to mention by name. (Laughter.)”

Just so that we remember that this ”certain area”  is actually a place with real people living in it, I’m posting a photo of street cricket in the Kashmiri capital Srinagar. Here is a link to one of the main newspapers in Kashmir. Here is a BBC map with various solutions to the Kashmir dispute . Here are links to United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir.  And for  good measure, here is a link to the 19th century poem Lalla Rookh  –admittedly written by a poet who had never been there but who nonetheless acknowledged its existence with the words ”Who has not heard of the vale of Cashmere?”  

Holbrooke continued:

“I am -– because I am not going to get involved in that. And people who have advocated that are making a proposal which I believe runs counter to stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan must be dealt with on its merits.”

Ok. But again let’s just remember that this idea of easing tension in Afghanistan by trying to resolve Kashmir was advocated by his boss, then presidential candidate Barack Obama, back in 2008.

As discussed in this post, time has moved on and the argument that the road to Kabul lies through Kashmir makes little sense when you compare the time this would take against the 2011 deadline set by Obama for starting to draw down troops.

But as a point of principle, is it enough to allow Holbrooke to reduce Kashmir to an elision at a briefing, without requiring the U.S. administration to explain this decision in public? The insiders would tell you they know already — India lobbied hard against having Kashmir included in Holbrooke’s remit and he has reportedly vowed never to use the “K” word. But what about the public who might want to hear it for themselves?

Meanwhile, Indian opposition leader L.K. Advani is accusing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of planning a secret deal on Kashmir

(Under then president Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan and India held secret talks which sketched out a road map for peace in Kashmir, but which reached a dead end when the former general become embroiled in political problems at home which eventually forced him out of office. This, as far as I’ve been told, was never an actual deal, but more like a set of principles rather like the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians which left a great amount still to be agreed or contested, and which had the additional weakness of being secret and therefore without public approval or support.)

So it looks like one way or the other, the question of Kashmir is going to be forced out into the open.  Perhaps it’s time Holbrooke dropped his resistance to naming it.


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